Mr A. Nino weathers a storm of protest

Charles Arthur Science Editor
Tuesday 03 March 1998 01:02 GMT

FEW PEOPLE know what it's like to be mistaken for a shifting mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean. But one man in the town of Nipomo, on the coast of California, does. Oh yes, Alfonso Nino - "Al" to his friends - certainly knows.

The phone calls started a few weeks ago. As the weather worsened, so did the tones of complaint. Sometimes the people were rude - and at first the retired naval pilot was confused by them. "What the hell do you mean by making it rain so much?" they would ask. Then the penny dropped: they thought that Al Nino was El Nino, the ocean circulatory system which over the past few months has caused inches of unseasonal rain to be dumped on the state of California.

Mr Nino has had more than 100 calls. "One man rang me and said I was responsible for his daughter losing her virginity," Mr Nino said. "I said, how? He said, because she couldn't get home one night because a storm blocked the road. I said I was sorry, though I didn't know what she thought of it."

Usually, he said, he just plays along with callers: "But some really believe it's my fault. I just play along with those ones, and warn them if they're not nice I'll make it keep raining."

And there's a silver lining to this cloud. Mr Nino, who is 75 a week today, has abruptly discovered that Andy Warhol was right about those 15 minutes of fame. He has featured in the local San Jose Mercury News, on his local television station, on television in New York, the Jay Leno Show, and countless radio shows. Meanwhile his phone number is now on the Internet, where people are wondering if he's related to the outdoor mural artist Al Fresco, the noted pasta chef Al Dente, or the reptile keeper Al Ligator.

Receiving our call from the UK reminded Mr Nino of Scotland. "I was posted there. My son was born there." And his son's name? "Alan." At least he'll know not to shorten it in the phone book.

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